ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asia Radar features articles and posts about arts and culture in Southeast Asia, drawn from local and regional websites and publications – aggregated content from outside sources, so we are exposed to a multitude of voices in the region. In the weekly Southeast Asia Radar, we publish a round-up of content that have been scoured and sifted from a range of regional news websites, blogs and media platforms.
Here is this week’s Southeast Asia Radar:
Faridah Merican at 80: still a child of theatre
Star 2, Malaysia
Datuk Dr Faridah Merican is often referred to as the First Lady of Malaysian Theatre with good reason. Today she may be most visible as the executive producer and co-founder of The Actors Studio, helming the work that goes on Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac). But her legacy in theatre and performing arts in Malaysia is much more extensive than that, and dates back six decades.
Faridah’s early acting credits include such plays as Lela Mayang, Tok Perak, Uda Dan Dara and Alang Rentak Seribu, works that defined Malaysian theatre in the 1960s and 1970s, and determined the direction that theatre would take in the next few decades.
It was the likes of Faridah, Krishen Jit, Rahim Razali, Usman Awang, Chin San Sooi, Syed Alwi, Lee Lee Lan, Gopal Shetty and Mohd Ghouse Nasuruddin who paved the way for the next generation of artists to shine.
In dancer Marion D’Cruz’s words: “They were the pioneers. They ‘cleared the jungle’. They did theatre and dance against all odds. They showed us that the performing arts was and is vital, necessary and important for Malaysia. They dreamed and made it happen.”
Chuth Khay – Cambodia’s Charles Dickens
Khmer Times, Cambodia
IT was one morning in Kampong Cham province of Cambodia during the early 1950s. A boy, wearing a rotten-made backpack filled with textbooks in French language, was striding on a dirt path from Kampong Cham town to Koh Somroung, a big island in the Mekong River and his hometown. It was now school vacation, and he had two months with his family before the start of his new academic year.
On his journey, the boy, whose name is Chuth Khay, marvelled at the natural elements that he passed by: trees, flowers, rivers, animals — everything. He took deep breaths — filling his lungs with fresh, cool country air. He loved nature, which enriched his heart, although he was only one of 10 siblings from a poor farming family, he lived at a pagoda to exploit the benefits of learning to read and write from the monks there.
“I was so proud that I was once known as Kmeng Wat (pagoda kid),” said Khay, now an 80-year-old man living in the Paris suburbs of France.
Beyond gallery walls: Yangon’s graffiti artists
GRAFFITI is synonymous with delinquency in most countries, and Myanmar is no exception. Many Myanmar parents would regard a young person going out at night to deface walls and buildings as no more than a deviant. However, for the past decade, the graffiti scene in Yangon has allowed a small group of young people to defy conservative norms and stake a claim on the city’s streets.
With the international art world’s embrace of artists like Keith Haring, Taki 183 and Blek le Rat, graffiti has come to be recognised as something much more than a crime or gesture of defiance. That is, art that reaches beyond the walls of a gallery.
We easily disregard the lurid doodles and scarcely legible text sprayed in alleys and on fences around abandoned construction sites in Yangon, but those who care to delve into the scene will find a small but diverse group of professional and amateur artists, most of whom are still drawn to the raw, vandalistic approaches of the New York graffiti movement.
However, since the city’s graffiti scene began to blossom a decade ago, it has yet to develop a discernable style of its own. For most practitioners, graffiti has been a way to plug into a cool, foreign culture, and this has created a tendency towards imitation rather than innovation – similar to pop music, where cover songs rule, and a large portion of the films produced in Myanmar.
Ballet Philippines battles Disney, typhoons and poverty to endure
From fierce typhoons and tight budgets to losing its dancers to cruise ships and theme parks, Ballet Philippines has weathered almost every type of storm, but as it celebrates its 50th anniversary the renowned arts organization is determined the show will go on.
Funding is difficult to secure and there is little money for necessities such as dancer’s salaries or even shoes — but more than 30,000 people watched the troupe’s productions last year, no mean feat in a nation where millions live on less than $2 a day.
One of the biggest challenges is keeping the dancers it has trained — some go on to join world-class organizations such as Stella Abrera who is now a principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre and West Australian Ballet soloist Candice Adea.
But many leave after being poached to perform on cruise ships or as characters at Disneyland, who can offer 50-100 times what they make at Ballet Philippines.
Review: In Ngọt’s Newest Album, Urban Loneliness Lingers on Mellow Strings
Established in late 2013, Ngot started out with three members: Vu Dinh Trong Thang on vocals and guitar, Nguyen Hung Nam Anh on percussion, and Tran Binh Tuan on guitar. The band formed during at a time when rock music in Hanoi and Saigon was warming up to new sounds, with new bands shifting away from distorted guitars and experimenting with clean tones and more lyric-focused work.
This moment was characterized by the arrival of bands such as Blumato, which is still active today; Mimetals, led by Thang’s brother Vu Dinh Hung, also known as Hung M.O.X; and Quai Vat Ti Hon, a group formed by elder statesmen of the rock music scene in Hanoi and Saigon including Nguyen Cong Hai, an ex-member of Microwave, Le Quang Minh, the ex-drummer of one of Saigon’s very first rock band, Little Wings, and Nguyen Hong Long, Gat Tan Day’s former bassist.
At first, Ngot brought songs to live venues across Hanoi, and posted several recordings online. The band’s self-titled first album was released in 2016 thanks to a successful crowdfunding campaign. Comprised of 10 songs, the album marks some of Ngot’s most characteristic work: ‘Khong Lam Gi,’ with its the clever use of repetition that conveys the dull banality of a routine life, or ‘Xanh,’ which laments lost love via the multiple meanings of the word xanh (which can translate to blue, green or youthful).
Melvine Amar: A very Parisian art patron for Indonesian artists
When it comes to trendy art galleries, we mostly have in mind places like Paris, New York or London, rather than Seminyak in Bali. However, never underestimate a passionate French woman’s ability to achieve her dreams and change this perception.
Melvine Amar opened Nyaman Gallery in Seminyak almost five years ago, and her story is so far a successful one.
She is not the first to have done so – long-timers in southern Bali recall pioneering galleries Biasa and Kendra, two foreign-led spots that paved the way for other art galleries.
Kelly Limerick on Phases of Exploration, Growing With Her Works and The Slow Art of Crochet
Object Lessons Space
Kelly Limerick is the pseudonym of Singaporean-born artist Kelly Lim (b. 1991). Having first picked up crochet in 1997 when she was seven years old, Kelly then taught herself knitting, and has since been using both skills for her artworks. Kelly often creates without a sketch or set patterns to produce one-off designs. Her work includes elements of kimo-kawaii (きもかわいい) — a Japanese term meaning grotesque-cute — and focuses on textures and details. Recently, she has been exploring large-scale installations, which inject unexpected visual impact in urban spaces and aim to provide immersive experiences by engaging the site. Much like a living creature, her art ‘grows’ with new inspirations every single day.
Kelly’s works are known for their imaginative quality, and for a perspective that presents an almost pure, childlike wonder. Creating primarily with crochet and yarn, Kelly’s works range from small creatures that can be held in ones hand to large scale installations that viewers are allowed to walk through. For our conversation, Kelly picked out a selection of ideas, objects and artworks that have inspired her practice and way of seeing.
Old town tunes up for music street festival and conference
Conference by day, festival by night. All dedicated to one thing: music.
Bangkok’s old town will get even cooler than now when Bangkok Music City hits next month, with music industry talents transforming the Charoen Krung neighborhood into a creative district alive with the sound of music.
The three-day event is divided into two parts: daytime conferences and nighttime music fest. It runs at several Charoen Krung-area hotspots, from the elegant Grand Postal Building and Bangrak Riverview community mall to shophouse-art space Speedy Grandma, live-jazz hotspot FooJohn and boutique music bar To More.
Among local talents slated to perform are one-of-a-kind mor lam supergroup The Paradise Bangkok Molam International Band, Soulful reggae-dub Srirajah Rockers, synth-pop band Polycat and alt-pop duo Whal & Dolph.
ArtsEquator’s Southeast Asia Radar is compiled every week. All sources and credit belong to the original publishers and writers. Click here for past editions of Southeast Asia Radar.